I was a teenager when the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to my then-hometown of Phoenix, and I still can’t fully embrace them as my NFL team today. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are my single favorite professional sports franchise, despite playing their first game a few months after I’d moved to Las Vegas.
The difference is simple: I’ve been with the D-Backs since the start. I cheered the announcement of their creation, watched as they unveiled their name and colors and counted the days until the expansion draft that would define their early fortunes. Such is the excitement of expansion.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, arrived in town with a quarterback, receivers and even a kicker intact. They had a record book and a playoff history. Even their name felt second-hand, or more accurately third-hand, since they’d brought it from Chicago to St. Louis and then to the Arizona desert.
I attended the Diamondbacks’ first regular-season game, even getting to walk onto the field beforehand, to feel the grass with my fingers and grasp the true weight of the moment in my mind. Everything about the hours that followed felt new—first pitch, hit and homer. It’s been 18 years, and it’s still the most significant sports memory of my life.
One year from now, Las Vegans will have the same opportunity. When the 2017-2018 National Hockey League season opens, we’ll have our own stake in it, and not because some other franchise left its town behind. The NHL recognized the potential of having an outpost here, and did what so many said would never happen—launch major-league sports in our Valley.
You can get a sneak preview of the ice this weekend, when T-Mobile Arena, the new club’s eventual home, hosts Vegas’ traditional Frozen Fury weekend of preseason games—the LA Kings against the Dallas Stars on October 7 and the Colorado Avalanche on October 8—and a college tilt between UNLV and ASU on October 9. And then, starting October 12, the NHL gets going for real, giving you 1,230 regular-season chances to learn about the teams, players, rules and lore—not to mention the ensuing Stanley Cup playoffs, which hockey fans will tell you makes their sport the best one around.
How competitive will Las Vegas’ team be at the start? Tough to know for sure, but don’t load up on Champagne unless you have a good wine fridge handy. Expansion doesn’t often equate to quick success, but I, for one, can wait for the winning. Because when it does come—as when the Diamondbacks won the 2001 championship—it’ll be a feeling like no other.